When employees take on new roles, or leave a job or a company, they often take valuable tribal knowledge with them. A social media platform for retaining this knowledge in the supply chain planning process is due to begin field trials in January 2016.
Supply chain operations and analytics company Entercoms, headquartered in Dallas, TX, has created a collaboration platform called Entercoms Pulse, and is working with Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC) to study its effectiveness in operational settings. A study titled “Knowledge Management and Collaborative Planning for Aftermarket Supply Chain Planning and Analytics” is providing insights into why tribal knowledge is important in managing supply chains, and how it can be efficiently and effectively incorporated into the planning process.
There is a vast range of knowledge associated with supply chain planning that can be a valuable resource if organized and stored as a retrievable source of information. The challenge is transferring these facts and figures from employees’ heads to a knowledgebase, so it can be used to improve organizational memory and make supply chains operations more effective.
Certain suppliers might be habitually late in fulfilling orders, for example, or customers in some parts of the world routinely overestimate demand by a wide margin. This kind of intelligence helps incumbent planners to do their jobs more efficiently, achieves savings and improves service levels when acted upon.
“A supplier completes an order early and the planner thinks that this is a one-off and keeps managing that company in the same way. But in reality the supplier has changed its ownership and processes and needs to be handled differently. Roles and responsibilities shift over time, and this knowledge is lost or communication is delayed potentially having a financial impact,” says Gloria Cervantes-Hay, Product Manager, Entercoms.
The collaboration platform doubles as a messaging system. Planners collaborate with each other and add information in Entercoms Pulse that is automatically tagged and analyzed for patterns such as market trends, supplier compliance, forecasting biases, among many others.
ZLC is carrying out the research and analysis for the study that is helping Entercoms to assess the effectiveness of this platform, and to provide valuable insights into the use of tribal knowledge in supply chain planning operations.
The study – which is being headed by Prof. Fabrizio Salvador, and ZLC PhD Candidate, Laura Wagner – is looking at the entire knowledge acquisition, gathering, and dissemination process. The exploratory phase documented, based on interviews with a sample of a 25-member planning team, how the latter interact with suppliers and customers, and what communication channels – email, for example – they use to incorporate the knowledge gained from these interactions into planning decisions.
“Our main purpose was to pinpoint specific examples of data that was missing, inaccurate, or late, and how this impacted planning,” says Gerardo Pelayo, Strategic Services Group Manager, Entercoms, who is working with ZLC. A common problem is purchasing a component only to discover that the part is obsolete, because the relevant information was not available to the planner when the original purchasing decision was taken.
The second part of the study aims to measure supply chain outcomes by comparing planning decisions before and after the platform’s implementation. The goal is to identify areas where the platform’s functionalities have the highest probability of creating a positive impact. Also, it will help to understand how adding tribal knowledge to an integrated knowledge platform improves the efficiency of the supply chain planning process.
Finally, the study aims to identify opportunities to “use tribal knowledge to generate new knowledge that feeds and improves the planning process.” For example, a part has persistent quality issues or is often delivered late owing to excessive vendor lead times. Rather than collecting this information every time the part is procured, the information is stored and the item is categorized differently. Further, by performing analytics on the codified tribal knowledge, new insights can be derived and the logic used to guide the planning processes is validated and updated as needed through a closed-loop information flow.
“While there are tools, both operational and under development, which cover some similar functionalities, these tend to be confined to a particular team rather than being applied across the extended supply chain,” says Pelayo.
The platform is currently used internally by Entercoms in managing supply chain operations and is rapidly evolving. Full roll out is expected to be complete in September 2015, and several “steady state” applications should be running by the end of 2015.
- http://www.isixsigma.com/dictionary/tribal-knowledge – “Tribal Knowledge”. Isixsigma.com. April 2015.
 Tribal knowledge is any unwritten information that is not commonly known by others within a company. This term is used most when referencing information that may need to be known by others in order to produce a quality product or service. The information can be key to quality performance but it may also be incorrect.
This post was published in the spring 2015 issue of Supply Chain Frontiers. Subscribe to this online newsletter for free here.